A fresh New York footwear brand with architectural appeal

THEY creates sneakers based on the Bauhaus aesthetic

THEY nappa leather Circle and Triangle Low sneakers, $359 each
THEY nappa leather Circle and Triangle Low sneakers, $359 each

It’s not often that something in a shop window stops me in my tracks – unless the retailer has a nice cat that’s taken a comfortable seat with a view of the pavement; I’ll almost always stop for a cat. There’s no feline at Assembly, the concept store on Ludlow Street on New York’s Lower East Side, but I did stop this summer in front of a pair of sneakers that practically made me purr.

THEY nappa leather Circle Low sneakers, $359 each
THEY nappa leather Circle Low sneakers, $359 each

The sneakers were by THEY, a brand that launched in New York last year, with a predominantly monochrome range of minimalist, unisex low-rise styles (from $259) that will appeal to anyone enamoured of the low-key but sophisticated aesthetic of the likes of Common Projects. I've been a Common Projects man for years, partly because I don’t like fuss – or colour – on my sneakers, and the graphics on these new shoes are clean and simple.

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There are essentially three designs – in a palette of black, white, beige, grey and blush – across the men’s, women’s and unisex styles, with geometric shapes embedded in the canvas surface and bi-coloured soles. The Two-Tone shoe has a heel panel that is the inverse of the front colour; the Triangle features a contrasting coloured triangle on the visible sides of the shoe, and ­– my favourite – the Circle, incorporates a perfectly simple semicircle.

THEY nappa leather Two-Tone Low sneakers, $359 each
THEY nappa leather Two-Tone Low sneakers, $359 each

And I can’t help but be attracted to the brand’s backstory. The designers – three friends from Manhattan with family traditions of working in Japanese footwear – take inspiration from their favourite modern architecture, particularly the origins of the Bauhaus movement and contemporary Japanese design. From where I’m standing, there’s certainly a sharpness and balance to the lines of these sneakers that has the precision of Walter Gropius or even Tadao Ando.

THEY sneakers were designed by three friends from Manhattan
THEY sneakers were designed by three friends from Manhattan

A pop-up shop in SoHo over the summer carried the full range of sneakers, and I bought a pair of the black-on-white Circle design, which look like an abstracted, blown-up polka dot – very Comme des Garçons. But what persuaded me to buy them, as much as anything, was the obvious beauty of the craftsmanship; the quality of the leather and stitching. The construction of these Italian shoes is impressive, and the interiors are elaborately cushioned for comfort – which also means I went for a size larger than I would normally take.

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I’m finding that they work just as well with casual tailoring as they do with a pair of jeans, and I imagine it won’t be long before I go back for more – whether to Assembly, or THEY’s online store, which ships all over the world.

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